Iraq’s prime minister has survived an assassination attempt after armed drones attacked his residence.
Troops deployed around Baghdad on Sunday following the overnight incident, which will increase tensions sparked by the refusal of Iran-backed militias to accept last month’s parliamentary election results.
There are fears that it could lead to a major escalation and retribution after seven of Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s security guards were injured.
At least two armed drones targeted the heavily fortified Green Zone in the capital, according to two Iraqi officials.
Locals heard an explosion followed by heavy gunfire from the area, which houses foreign embassies and government offices.
Images showed the damage in Mr al-Kadhimi’s residence, including smashed windows and doors blown off their hinges.
The Prime Minister was unharmed, and later appeared on Iraqi television looking calm and composed.
But his left hand did appear to be wrapped in a bandage, and an aide confirmed he had suffered a light cut.
He said: ‘Cowardly rocket and drone attacks don’t build homelands and don’t build a future.’
Later on Sunday, he led a security meeting with Iraqi President Barham Salih.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, but Iran-backed militias who had been publicly attacking Mr al-Kadhimi and issuing threats are suspected of carrying out the attack.
It comes amid a stand-off between security forces and the pro-Iran Shiite militias whose supporters have been camped outside the Green Zone for nearly a month after rejecting the results of Iraq’s parliamentary elections, in which they lost around two-thirds of their seats.
Ranj Alaaldin, a non-resident fellow at the Brooking Institution, tweeted: ‘The assassination attempt is a dramatic escalation, crossing a line in unprecedented fashion that may have violent reverberations.’
Protests turned deadly on Friday when the demonstrators tried to enter the Green Zone and security forces used tear gas and live ammunition.
There was an exchange of fire in which one protester affiliated with the militias was killed, while dozens of security forces were injured.
Mr al-Khadimi ordered an investigation to determine what sparked the clashes and who violated orders not to open fire.
Some of the leaders of the most powerful militia factions loyal to Iran openly blamed Mr al-Kadhimi for Friday’s clashes and the protester’s death.
‘The blood of martyrs is to hold you accountable,’ said Qais al-Khazali, leader of the Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia, addressing Mr al-Kadhimi at a funeral held for the protester on Saturday.
‘The protesters only had one demand against fraud in elections. Responding like this (with live fire) means you are the first responsible for this fraud.’
Mr al-Kadhimi, 54, was Iraq’s intelligence chief before becoming prime minister in May last year. He is considered by the militias to be close to the US.
Prior to the elections, he hosted several rounds of talks between regional foes Iran and Saudi Arabia in Baghdad in a bid to ease regional tensions.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh condemned the assassination attempt on and indirectly blamed the US, but did not elaborate beyond claiming to be aware of ‘the conspiracies that target the security and progress of Iraq’.
The US strongly denounced the attack and regional leaders called for calm.
The US, the UN Security Council and others have praised the October 10 election, which was mostly violence-free and without major technical glitches.
But unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud have cast a shadow over the vote and now there are fears that the incident will further increase tensions among rival Shiite factions that threaten further violence and Iraq’s relative stability.
The election was held months ahead of schedule in response to mass protests in late 2019, which saw tens of thousands in Baghdad and predominantly Shiite southern provinces rally against endemic corruption, poor services and unemployment.
They also protested against the heavy-handed interference of neighboring Iran in Iraq’s affairs through Iran-backed militias.